Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the University is its student-run Honor System, and the community of trust that it creates on campus and in Lexington. Students at W&L enjoy unparalleled academic and social freedom. Undergraduates typically schedule their own final examinations, which are taken unsupervised. Personal property is generally safe on campus, and most University buildings remain open twenty-four hours a day. A student's word is accepted and respected both on campus and in the community.
By longstanding tradition, members of the W&L community regularly say "hello" to one another, whether passing on the Colonnade or meeting in the Commons. This simple courtesy, which affects and reflects the warmth and civility of life on campus, is also extended to visitors, who instantly feel a part of the community.
Washington and Lee's famous Mock Convention attracts national attention when it is held in the winter term of every presidential election year. The entire student body participates in this political exercise aimed at choosing the presidential candidate of the party out of power in the White House. The Mock Convention has achieved a remarkable record of accuracy and is considered to be the most realistic event of its kind in the nation. Every student has an opportunity to participate in at least one Mock Convention during a four-year career at Washington and Lee.
The biggest social event of the year is the Fancy Dress Ball. The tradition of Fancy Dress dates back to 1907. The Warner Athletic Center and Doremus Gymnasium are transformed with elaborate props and decorations into a setting appropriate to the theme for the year. Entertainment often includes a dance orchestra, contemporary musical entertainment, and other entertainers and performers who provide moments of surprise. Guests dress formally for the event, and a few participate in costumes derived from the theme.